The Emperor's New Clothes-An Epistemological Critique of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Acupuncture

Animals (Basel). 2019 Apr 15;9(4):168. doi: 10.3390/ani9040168.


Within the last few decades, complementary and alternative medicines have gained increased popularity in the veterinary field. Although many authors have exposed the scientific fallacies and historical misconceptions used to justify such therapies, those efforts have not succeeded in detracting veterinary practitioners from embracing them. Notably, Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM), including acupuncture, has emerged as one of the main alternatives to conventional veterinary medicine. In this paper, analogical reasoning is used to investigate conceptual, historical and scientific assertions made by the advocates of TCVM. The paper is divided into two parts: The first aims to appraise conceptual and historical claims made by veterinary acupuncturists. I defend that TCVM is a pre-scientific construct, similar to humoral doctrine, and that acupuncture is analogous to bloodletting. The second part is focused on scientific evidence of clinical application of acupuncture in the dog, showing how science is yet to validate veterinary acupuncture and defending that claims of efficacy are due to placebo effect. It is suggested that veterinary acupuncture needs to abandon Traditional Chinese Medicine and embrace science-based medicine tout court. On the other hand, high quality scientific studies, including randomized controlled trials, need to be presented. Veterinary regulators must bring the issue of non-conventional therapies into their agendas.

Keywords: Thomas Kuhn; Traditional Chinese Medicine; bloodletting; evidence-based medicine; history of science; humoralism; placebo; veterinary acupuncture.